Thursday, 29 December 2016

Uncle John's Barbecue and Beer Crawl

Of all the adventures on our annual Visit to the North, I think our Leeds-based pub crawl, accompanied by my Uncle John, is my favourite. Not only is he eternally patient (last time, we went to three different places across Leeds before we found cans of Northern Monk’s Ice cream pale ale), but he also shares our boundless enthusiasm for finding new places to eat and drink; as well as our enthusiasm for just eating and drinking generally.

This time our beer crawl took in the Duck and Drake (old fashioned boozer with log burner and tip-top local ales), Wapentake (friendly café/bar with £2 a pint Tuesdays on cask beer) and Little Leeds Beer house to stock up on supplies, before a promised visit to Bem Brasil to eat barbecue; copious amounts of red meat being another of our shared interests.

In case you have managed to avoid the protein-driven trend that arrived here several years ago, Bem Brasil is a churrascaria (a hard-to-spell way to say barbecue restaurant) that specialises in all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue - skewers of assorted grilled meats, carved tableside, accompanied by a variety of hot and cold buffet dishes. And, as it was Christmas, obligatory elf costumes for the churrasqueiros and a bonus chocolate fountain for dessert.

Now, it may be hard to hear limitless meat and not to think of greenery as a pointless distraction, but I was a big fan of the buffet selection - albeit probably because many the dishes involved mayo, cheese or being deep fried. As well as all the salad staples there were some traditional Brazilian items, such as black beans, with pork and pao de queso (Brazilian cheese balls) and, for those who are hankering for something a little more ‘local’, dishes of yorkies, gravy and roasted brussels sprouts.

The real dangers with a buffet are two-fold – overloading on carbs and overloading on everything. I am well practised in carb-ditching, from the days when I used to go out to the Chinese buffet after the pub with past work colleagues and quickly learnt that less rice and noodles meant more crispy duck and shrimp. The latter is always harder, although I managed to exercise enough restraint (just) on this visit, to end up with an, only slightly incongruous, mix of cold salads (the tuna, and a Russian-style salad being particularly good) alongside beef and tomato stew, polenta and the aforementioned sprouts.

Of course, the Ewing heeded no warning and threw herself at it with her customary gay abandon, ending up with a mountain of cold meats, plantain fritters (like a banana rolled in breadcrumbs - the best bit for those of us sweet of tooth - TE) and cabbage. When our basket of chips arrived (they are available on the buffet, but they will fry them to order if you ask), my Uncle, jokingly, asked if she had room for one, before crowning her pile of food with a solitary fried potato stick.

When a glimmer of white space had been cleared on our plates the procession of meats began to emerge from the kitchen, expertly carved by our smiling elfin waiter, who not only impressively still boasted a full compliment of digits and a clean shirt but also kept us topped up with the Good Stuff throughout our meal.

Of all the meats, Uncle John’s favourite was the roast lamb, while the Ewing favoured the spicy little chorizo sausages. I couldn't decide, happily oscillating between chicken thighs wrapped in bacon; the rump steak, with its glorious frill of fat that tasted just like a Sunday roast; and the pichana, or rump cap, the comma shaped speciality of Brazilian barbecue cookery.

Previously my only experience in all-you-can-eat skewered meat had come in Australia, when my sister took us out to dinner in Coogee and I unwittingly realised that by agreeing to sample some of the, less than popular with the other patrons, grilled chicken hearts, I had pretty much committed myself to finishing the whole skewer. As much as I was a fan, a dozen or so Coração de Frango piled up on your plate can soon turn from springy, well-seasoned morsels to salty rubber pucks.

With Uncle John with us, I had no such concerns this time - even if the Ewing didn’t care for them, so I still ended up with a double helping. One thing we did all agree was fantastic was the moceuena, a Brazilian fish stew with a tomato and pepper sauce from the selection of hot buffet dishes. In fact it was so good, I’d go as far to wager it would even get my, mostly vegetarian with the odd bit of fish, Aunt through the door. She would definitely have enjoyed the carafe of merlot.

Feeling a gout attack was imminent - the Ewing was too full to even contemplate the chocolate fountain - we flipped our discs to red and made our way to old favourite Northern Monk. And, like every time we have previously visited, it started raining just as we headed over the Liverpool to Leeds shipping canal.

Which made the Super Kris stolen pale ale, followed by their ambrosial Strannik stout, at 9%, the perfect, warming digestifs. Same time again next year, then?

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